Sujay Dahake has impressed one and all with his debut marathi film ‘Shala‘. Anybody who has watched the film would definitely say that he is a talent to watch out for. So we thought of interviewing him over an email to get to now more about him and the film as well. Here is the interview :
Why did you choose to make your debut film in Marathi?
When i was studying in the Philippines i had this novel with me. Whatever i learned i used to apply it on this novel and use it as homework. When i was back in India I had already done a lot of homework on this novel hence decided to make this film. The novel was written in marathi, hence I decided to make it in marathi. If i was studying a french novel at that time i would have gone for a french film.
How difficult was it to find a producer?
It was quite difficult to find a producer as all of them thought it is a tried and tested story. Who would want to come back and see a love story of kids, that too based in the 70’s. Second was my age, world can be unfair to a 5ft 4inch man and a 24 year old then. Our society is not used to seeing a young director.
You have learned filmmaking from International Academy of Film and Television at Phillipines. Please can you tell us why you decided to opt for this Institute and your experience in it?
I had already done a masters course in film semiotics from Mumbai University, where i had studied more about theory of cinema. It is the course mostly film critics and reporters do. I wanted to know the grammar of cinema. After i knew that, i felt an urge of knowing the technical aspects of cinema. This institute offered such courses. So i went to do another masters course in filmmaking in Philippines where i learned mostly the technical side of cinema like, how to use a camera to tell your story or how to edit to tell your story etc.
How difficult was it to convince the author, Milind Bokil, on whose book the film is based on?
It was quite a task to convince him. This was the 3rd time his novel was going into some other form again. He was worried more than being prickly about it. He wanted justice to the novel. And i could sense that. So after the first rejection in the meeting i came back home and almost frantically started sketching the entire novel with the help of some of my friends. We used to sketch one page each. Meanwhile i also shot a small teaser to get him hooked. It was shot exactly the way i want to make this film. I am a bad narrator or rather an orator. I can show, but can’t tell. This was my answer to that. Once he saw the promo, Mr.Bokil was convinced and gave me the rights.
All the child actors in the film are first-timers. How did you go about casting them?
Can you share any interesting anecdote from the workshops conducted?
This was the most challenging task. I went all around Maharashtra looking for specific stereotypes mentioned in the novel. In the process i figured out i had auditioned 1600 kids. A great database. We took a workshop a month prior to the shoot. It was not to teach the kids acting but give them moments. One such example is when the two lovers meet in the temple in the film, we actually took the protagonists Anshuman Joshi and Ketaki Mategoankar to a temple during the workshop and had them do the scene without a proper guidance. That put them into a fix and brought the entire reactions in the eyes, which we were looking for.
Panhala, where the film is shot also happens to be the place where you have spent your childhood. How was the experience?
Panhala has always been special to me. I studied in the boarding school there. I had seen a different school. Not similar to the one i was shooting. I had seen discipline, strict and of course it was an all boys school.
The opening titles of your film are animated. Any particular reason for the choice?
I always like storytelling in small things. The animated sequence was one such experiment where i wanted to tell a small short animated story in 3 minutes. I like it when small things end up giving a big result and such was the sequence inspired by Belgian illustration style “Ligne Claire“.
Why did you opt for a foreign cinematographer and a sound recordist?
One more experiment, Shala was a film close to nature, people would only appreciate it if the visual and sound are completely different. I had seen many works of indian cinematographers and somewhere as per my research i felt that the visuals have become monotonous. Bringing a foreign DOP would see things differently in the same setting and would bring a new texture and hence the decision. Same was the case with sound. A foreign sound recordist would capture different sounds that we take for granted. Also, i just couldn’t digest the idea of dubbing 104 characters again in a studio and loose all my emotions.
Why did you choose popular folk-rock band Agnee to compose songs in the film?
Agnee and me are friends. We share the same vision. We talk about the same creative process. They in their music and me in my cinematic values. It was a challenge to them as well as i asked them to make songs that were classical in structure though they are more into rock music. But they loved it!
The chairman of this year’s Akhil Bhartiya Marathi Sahitya Sammelan to take place in February is your relative. Your family seems to have a literature background. Were they supportive of your decision to make films?
Yes, he is my grandfather. I have only spoken to him once. Two artists can’t live under same roof.
You have recently shot and edited the entire Tata Steel Ad campaign and have also been a photographer for FTV(Asia) in the past. In the future you would like to stick only to filmmaking or keep your options open?
Yes, i will keep my options open. I am going to make 1 film every 3 years or so. These assignments will help me survive.
Please can you tell us about your future projects?
No plans yet. But I want to adapt on screen novels like Kosala, Zhul, Jharila, Hindu etc.
[P.S.- The trailer of the hindi film Humne Jeena Seek Liya into which Shala was first adapted can be watched here. No wonder the novelist was prickly about giving the rights for his book again :). Also the review of Shala can be read here]